It’s been quiet for awhile, and now the studios unleash hell. Shall we dance?
CITY OF GOD
If you have never seen one of the great crime sagas of all time, now you can watch it in high def. Twenty years in the lives of kids just trying to get by; twenty years in the life of a hellhole favela that’s trying to kill them all. You need City of God in your life.
THE EXPENDABLES: DIRECTOR’S CUT
Ahh…The Expendables. What should have been a legendary filmic event ended up being a passable B-action pic. I wasn’t over-the-moon about it, but it was a good time, and worth the ten bucks.
The Director’s Cut debuted a few months back during an action movie marathon on cable network EPIX, and it did have an effect on my opinion of the film. There’s some stuff in this version that should never have been removed.
When I talk to people about how sloppy the film is, I always use Randy Couture’s cauliflower ear speech to make my point. In the original cut of the film, the speech feels like somebody scribbled some stuff on a whiteboard for Captain America to say so that he had a couple lines of actual dialogue. The rambling dialogue makes no sense and proves no point – and it’s made all the more painful by Couture’s awkward line reading.
In the Director’s Cut, we discover that Couture’s character trots this tale out in direct response to the dysfunctional nature of this group of supermen, and that the whole diatribe is really about Toll Road’s betrayal at the hands of someone he thought was a friend. Not only does the speech make sense in context, we actually discover that Couture has no problem pulling off the dialogue – the oddness of his performance in the theatrical release was due to the fact that the speech was pared down via a seemingly arbitrary removal of every other line. The Expendables is plagued by that kind of shoddy cutting.
I remember thinking that these characters weren’t having conversations with one another; they were just saying random things at each other. Turns out that someone went in and whittled dialogue and exposition down to nothing. Was it Paul Harb – who worked on Rocky Balboa and Rambo? Was it Stallone himself? Who knows, Highlander…who knows?
With these moments restored, there is a far better flow to the film – and some cast members see some extra time to shine. Dolph Lundgren gets to freak out a little more during the opening (which is revamped a bit), and break down a little more by his end (his death scene is actually played for comedy, as we discover he has a quirky appreciation for Norse mythology). Charisma Carpenter’s character comes apart on Chev Chelios during their sorta’ breakup, actually crying in the street – which was a surprisingly affecting moment. There are even a few trims included to explain what felt like half-witted plotholes in the theatrical release.
And of course…the violence and bloodshed is notched up considerably.
It isn’t all joy here, though. That putrid fucking Nümlaut Metal song that played over the trailers – from Hinder (that’s a long “I” by the way) or Shinedown or Saliva or Staind or whichever interchangeable post-Bizkit schlockmaestros it was – the entirety of that miserable fucking “song” plays over the escape from Generalissimo Angel Batista’s compound. What’s worse – the Expendables team actually start singing it on the plane during their trip to Santa Poco. I actually cringed. So entirely misguided.
All in all, however, this cut is a big step up from the theatrical version. If you’re a superfan of the film, you will be even more of a superfan of the film. Enjoy.
The original Tom Holland Fright Night comes to Blu Ray via Screen Archives’ Twilight Time label, and it’s a marked improvement on the ancient DVD. The transfer retains the grain, the colors aren’t absurdly boosted, and the new sound mix is spacious without feeling artificial. It’s a limited edition of 3000, and features an isolated Brad Fiedel score, a couple of trailers, and a set of liner notes featuring an essay by Julie Kirgo that, as florid as it is, rings entirely true with regard to the film’s subtext. I’d have loved some old-school EPK stuff, maybe a cast reunion/retrospective from Michael Felsher at Red Shirt, and a Tom Holland commentary – but the improved image itself is, to me, worth the price of the package.
FRIGHT NIGHT 3D
This is the story of a lovely Imogen Poots (played by a lovely Imogen Poots). Sometimes she has monster teefs, but I still think she’s cute even when she has monster teefs.
I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots I love you Imogen Poots
Yeah, I’m a critic, all right…
Peter Jackson’s breakthrough feature debuts on Blu this day. The true story of a murder that freaked New Zealand right the fuck out, the film brought the luminous light of Kate Winslet to the world (not to mention the sweetness of Melanie Lynskey – at times extraordinarily creepish in this film), and proved to the world what genre fans already knew – that our Saint Pete could do anything.
Have you guys seen Intruder? It’s kinda’ obscure to those who aren’t steeped in the horror/slasher genre. Sorta’ legendary in its day for being cut all the way to worthless and unintelligible by the MPAA, Screenwriter Scott (Evil Dead 2, The Rookie) Spiegel made his directorial debut with this supermarket-set slasher flick back in 1989. Produced by Lawrence Bender (before he and his Video Archives cohort Quentin Tarantino hit it big with Reservoir Dogs), Intruder‘s cast includes Spiegel’s Michigan Militia – Sam and Ivan Raimi, Evil Dead 2’s Danny Hicks, and even a bit of the ol’ Ash-hole himself, Bruce Campbell. Spiegel’s film is shot with amazing energy and high style that borrows from great films and filmmakers every bit as much as it is wholly fresh and original. For example, to me – there’s Hitchcock all over this film, but Hitchcock never hid the camera behind the dial of a rotary phone.
Synapse Films releases Intruder to Blu with a restored – and gorgeous – 2k transfer, revealing some surprisingly vibrant photography (not easy under the supermarket’s fluorescent lights, I’d wager), and casting an unforgiving eye on the masterful effects work of Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger. Nicotero cut his teeth on the Romero Dead films under Tom Savini, and it’s pretty clear here that he took Savini’s lessons on anatomical accuracy to heart (Savini has said that you can fill some prop up with a bunch of goo and blobs of randomness, but an audience is far more disturbed when they see that the insides of some gory prop look like something real). Harsh lighting, impeccable High Def transfer – and the effects still whip a llama’s ass with a belt.
KUNG FU PANDA 2
Seriously and sincerely the best time I had in a theater all year, Kung Fu Panda 2 is how a sequel should be done. It doesn’t turn the volume up to eleven on the first film…
Well…it doesn’t just turn the volume up. Everything about this film is a step up from the already-exemplary original: the scale and scope are massive, the fights more intricate, the animation more detailed and vibrant – but that’s not all that’s going on here. Kung Fu Panda 2 is one of the rare sequels (live action or animated) that refuses to simply hit the “reset” button. It doesn’t suddenly say that pudgy Po is not the new incarnation of the legendary Dragon Warrior…it doesn’t make him win the title all over again – no one doubts that he’s the mythical fighter…except him. And his feelings of self-doubt stem from something he’s feared for a long time – a running joke from the first film.
That’s the real glory of this sequel, it takes a dorky knock-off gag – that James Hong’s bird character couldn’t possibly be Po’s dad, and turns it into the central element of a narrative that made me ache in a way no animated film has managed since the opening of UP.
Yeah. I fucking said it. It hit me that hard. Kung Fu Panda 2 is amazing.
Also – The 3D Blu Ray is a Best Buy exclusive, and it looks stellar.
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
I don’t know that anyone saw this coming. Or maybe we all did? We all knew, didn’t we? Fox – a studio known for churning out genre franchise garbage under Tom Rothman, exploits another name brand and tosses another talented filmmaker without clout under the bus for a quick buck. A few weeks before release, star James Franco lamented the fact that, while Rupert Wyatt and company crafted a compelling drama, forced reshoots were undoubtedly going to tip the scales in favor of mindless pixelspectacle. It was going to be just one more Fox clustercuss – and this time they couldn’t leak it to torrent sites to blame piracy for the tepid box office.
But we – and, for that matter, Franco – needn’t have worried. Turns out Wyatt constructed a perfect balance of emotion and spectacle – and those elements fueled the perfect storm that was the film’s driving force: Caesar. A mix of Andy Serkis’ profound and primal performance and the most elaborate motion capture outside of a Lightstorm production, Caesar is almost 100% believable – and if the effects ever do falter, Serkis’ heart beating in that little digital creature’s chest takes you the rest of the way home. I wasn’t prepared for how brilliant this film was. I will be now.
THE ROCKETEER: 20th ANNIVERSARY EDITION
It’s hard to see this film as anything more than an aborted test flight for Joe Johnston’s Captain America. All of the elements are in place for a fun period-authentic adventure …but it all just sits there…dramatically inert…devoid of the sense of wonder a twelve year-old-boy should have when he dreams of jet packs or Jennifer Connelly. I know there’s a lot of love for this flick – and there’s certainly a lot to love about it (like Timothy Dalton, Terry O’Quinn, and Jennifer Connelly) – but it never really comes together as it should. Perhaps it’s the forgettable source material (which seemed sometimes to exist only so creator Dave Stevens could draw pictures of his wife tied up by Nazis), perhaps it’s that Billy Campbell plays it a little too vanilla – I don’t know for sure, and it’s been forever since I’ve seen it.
BD appears to be bare bones, so while it’s the 20th Anniversary…there’s not much to celebrate. But it is being advertised as having undergone a restoration, and the Dismal Disney DVD was released so long ago that the film isn’t even anamorphic, so this is the time to trade up if you love the flick.
Todd Haynes gorgeous paean to/lament of/eulogy for Glam FINALLY hits Blu today. It’s like Eddie and the Cruisers with more Ewan McGregor ass – which…is a good thing, right?
IT MEANS EVERYTHING: THE BLU RAY OF THE WEEK!
Rise of the Planet of the Apes…Kung Fu Panda 2…Heavenly Creatures…Fright Night (original and remake – they’re both super fun)…Velvet Goldmine…even Intruder – for weeks, there has been little to recommend, and now – the floodgates have been opened. Any one of the titles I mentioned above could be the Blu Ray of the Week on any given week.
But this is not any given week.
For a film hits Blu Ray this day that I never thought would see the format. I own it in a GIANT plastic VHS box (well…I did. My friend Jimmy stole it in 1996. Fucker), I own an unauthorized DVD of it…a legit PAL DVD…I’ve chased this film down in its every incarnation. If I could, I’d buy a print, rent a theater, and play it every weekend. It is, without a doubt, one of my absolute favorite films ever.
Look around you. This world is hard and ugly and cruel. This country is dying before our very eyes. We live in a police state. Things are getting worse, and since no one will rise up to fight…to storm the wire of the camps…to smash those metal motherfuckers into junk – all we can do is find joy when and where we can – until they break down the door and put their guns in the face of your wife and child.
I’m going to give you that joy. I’m going to sling that electronic opiate. Here’s your taste.
FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS aka SUPERNINJAS
All you need to know to know that you need to own this motherfucker is right here: SEWER SUBTERRANEA – SUPERNINJAS
ALL IN – THIS WEEKS BLU:
Becoming Jane – The story of a young actress trying to overcome her boring Julia Roberts face. SPOILER: IT NEVER HAPPENS.
City Of God
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame – Haven’t had the chance to see this yet, but it looks like a blast.
The Expendables: Director’s Cut
Fright Night 3D
Kung Fu Panda 2
A Legend Is Born: Ip Man
Meet Me in St. Louis
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Stars and Stripes Forever
Twelve Kingdoms: Great Distance In Wind/Sky At Dawn
WWE: The Best of King of the Ring
X: The Unheard Music – Exene and John Doe are well worth your time.
NOW THAT’S WHAT CHUD CALLS MUSIC – WITH JEB DELIA!
TEN I MISSED FROM 2011
The hundreds of albums I cover in the course of the year is just a fraction of what’s out there, so there’s plenty of music I don’t have a chance to hear prior to release date, and plenty more that I stumble across weeks or months later. Here’s a small sample of some 2011 releases that we didn’t have a chance to cover when they came out.
THE LOVE ME NOTS – THE DEMON AND THE DEVOTEE
A couple years ago, my first exposure to this band helped me recover from the demise of Les Hell On Heels; the Love Me Nots had the same fierce punky drive, chunky guitars, cheesy organ, and a smart, sexy, snarling female lead vocalist (Nicole Laurenne). I somehow lost track of them, but I’m delighted that they turned up this year with their fourth album, and I’m impressed with the progress they’ve made. While there’s still lots of ? and the Mysterians influence (“”The End of the Line,” “I’m Gonna Be Your Girl”), the sound is more varied than before, from the slinky melancholy of “She’s Nothing Like Me,” to the stentorian “Cheap Knockoff” to the Siouxsie-meets-Devo of “Demons”: “Leave your demons here with me / I’ll entertain them in my dreams / I’ll feed them well / A devotee / Your demons won’t let me be.” And the Byrdsian jangle of “The Girl Lights Up” bodes well for continued growth.
BOUBACAR TRAORE – MALI DENHOU
With fine new releases from Tinariwen and Bombino Motcar, 2011 was already a pretty good year for the Desert Blues, but I somehow managed to overlook this latest release from the Grand Old Man of the form. In an admittedly limited genre, Traore’s always distinguished himself from his cultural progeny by supplementing his fluid guitar with a jazz-inflected harmonica, played here by France’s Vincent Bucher.
Any man getting to Traore’s age is likely to be looking backwards rather than forwards, and some of the tracks here are new recordings of tunes that have been part of his repertoire since the 40’s and 50’s. The new versions have a preternatural, almost Zen-like calmness: where Paul Simon spent 2011 greeting the approach of life’s end with glib solipsism and coy humor, Traore finds acceptance. His new song, “Dundobesse M’Bedouniato,” lays it out. “In that song,” Traore writes, “I say I’ve had my time in this world, that’s it. One day, I will have to go. One day a man is having a glorious time, and the next, he is gone, he becomes nothing.”As the album winds down on the six and a half minutes of “Mali Tchebaou,” the travails of one of Africa’s great musical pioneers melt into a quiet valedictory.
JOSH T. PEARSON – LAST OF THE COUNTRY GENTLEMEN
Following the brief career of Lift To Experience, Pearson dropped from sight, and his return is marked by a new album that relates the harrowing tale of years of abuse that Pearson would once have blamed on cocaine and women; the long, mesmerizing songs here (four of them running over ten minutes) seem to reflect a coming to terms with his own complicity in his misery. The song titles alone are a pretty good indicator of the bleak darkness to come: “Sweetheart, I Ain’t Your Christ,” “Country Dumb,” “Sorry With A Song.” The almost too self-aware self-portrait is summed up in lyrics like “I come from a long line in history of dreamers / Each one more tired than the one before.” “Honestly, why can’t you just let it be / And let me quietly drink myself to sleep.” The sparse instrumentation, augmented here and there by ominous swells of strings, frames Pearson’s raw, aching vocals.
The album’s centerpiece is probably the most harrowing performance I’ve heard all year, the 13-minute “Honeymoon’s Great, Wish You Were Her.” Against a skittering guitar and violin accompaniment, Pearson launches his confession: “I’m in love with another woman / Please don’t tell my wife / Whenever we make love, I’m made sadder every time / Because I feel like I’m cheating on a woman who’s not my wife.” When Pearson gives us the woman’s perspective, it’s with a blunt honesty: “I feel like she can see me / Like she’s staring through God damned eyes / I kiss your lips and I feel her whisper back up into mine / She’s saying ‘I wish I was her.’ ” Next time you think that Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night is just not depressing enough, give this one a spin.
WHITE DENIM – D
When a garage band moves out of the garage and adds a “virtuoso” second guitarist, the possibility of indulgence looms large. And there’s no question that listeners who know White Denim from stuff like Fits may find that the band’s ambitious reach for something between the early Allmans and the Dixie Dregs is stuck somewhere between too much polish and too little. But the fierce blast of “Back At The Farm” demonstrates that James Petralli and Austin Jenkins would be taken at least as seriously as, say, Lynyrd Skynyrd, if Southern-fried boogie was their objective.
But the speedy axework is only part of the album’s strengths. “River To Consider” is a cool slice of Herbie Mann-style jazz-funk, while “Anvil Everything” and “Bess St” put the swirling guitars in service of Summer of Love psychedelia, more than a little reminiscent of Moby Grape, a comparison reinforced by the light-footed country-rock of “Street Joy” and “Keys.” It’s nothing like what you’d thought it’d be,” Petralli sings, and you’ll have to agree.
SOME OTHER NOTABLE 2011 RELEASES THAT SLIPPED PAST:
Jace Everett – Mr Good Times. The “True Blood” growler returns with another dozen down and dirty slices of fuzz-tone Americana.
The Main Ingredients – Down To The Bone. Nine (!) albums in, and the jazz-funk mixture still does down smooth. I do wish they’d drop the attempts at songwriting, though. Only three this time, which at least is headed in the right direction.
Sons and Daughters – Mirror Mirror. Goth spookiness had its day back when Robert Smith was still happy to write about killing an Arab. Still, these kids are from Scotland, so I cut them some slack. Love the accents, too.
James Blake – James Blake. If your tolerance for auto-tune is higher than mine, then this guy might be Bill Withers or even Ray Charles. If not, well at least he’s a nice runner-up to Mayer Hawthorne.
Yuck – Yuck. The 90’s are calling, and they want their guitars back.
Julianna Barwick – The Magic Place. The buzz on this one was impressive: ethereal, ambient, compelling. Well, two out of three isn’t bad.
TONY’S PLAYIN’ GAMES – WITH TONY RYAN!
Since Activision and EA have devoured enough souls to slumber for the rest of winter, no more games are coming out. Star Wars doesn’t count. Everyone knows MMOs aren’t really released until everyone’s free month is up. Or if you’re Final Fantasy 14, three years and four months after the release day. So, with nothing dropping this week I’d thought I’d give a little time to some of the smaller releases of the year.
It’s easy to ignore digital downloads when we’re getting bombarded by AAA games, but with the season of downtime and gift cards upon us; now is the perfect time to catch up. These are just some of my favorites in a huge list of great downloadable games that hit in 2011.
BASTION (360, PC)
Still my favorite game of the year. Bastion is unique in a way few games are these days. It’s a tight, emotional narrative wrapped around an excellent action RPG. It’s also got a bad ass narrator. Your every moment is being constantly narrated by someone doing an amazing young Sam Elliot impression. What could easily be an annoying mechanic actually makes for one of the most enjoyable experiences of 2011. The narration is varied and aesthetically the most important piece of the game. The narrator sets up the world straight away with his tone and vernacular. It’s an amazing piece of writing, especially considering the amount of variation within the narrative. The game has an understanding of how video game storytelling works. Bastion is a story that wouldn’t have the same impact being told any other way.
The gameplay isn’t shortchanged here either. Bastion has an addictive weapon and upgrade system that rewards experimentation and unique play styles. The combat has just enough of that puzzle element to keep it engaging for the (perfectly) short play time. There are a couple of different modes to try out some of the more interesting weapon combos too. But even these aren’t throwaway add-ons. The narrator whispers sparse back story in between rounds during the gauntlet/high score mode. Bastion isn’t the type of game to waste your time.
And the music! With all the praising I’ve done here, all I need to do to get someone to play the game is have them listen to Zia’s Theme. Like the rest of the game, the music isn’t going to leave your head anytime soon. But the best part is, if you’re reading this you can probably play the game. No 360 or Steam account required, Bastion runs on Chrome now. There are no excuses left. You need a break from Skyrim anyway.
PINBALL FX2 (360, PS3)
I’m a sucker for a good game of video pinball. Like Hockey or Soccer, it’s a real world activity that translates perfectly to video games. Pinball FX2 is a good video pinball game. It’s got lots of tables, decent physics, and tons of flashing lights. Plus, a Moon Knight table. That’s right – a motherfucking Moon Knight table.
So this one has been out on PC for a while, but the 360 port is such perfect mindless couch gaming I had to include it. Torchlight is a loot pinata game from some of the folks behind Diablo. With that pedigree it should be no surprise that there is some great click, murder, loot to be had here. It’s not the year’s best dungeon crawler, but it’s some of the best mindless fun XBLA can offer.
BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL HD (360, PS3)
Rayman Origins is the second best Ancel-produced game this year. Beyond Good and Evil is a hybrid of many genres that somehow comes out as a singular vision. It’s one of the few games I wouldn’t hesitate to canonize. The game is a joy to play and experience and the fresh coat of paint does its best to bring it up to modern standards. You can’t expect the kind of fluid controls you get with current gen games, but it truly doesn’t matter. While no game exists in a vacuum, the charms far outweigh the dated, clumsy sections. If you weren’t around to play Beyond Good and Evil when it came out, don’t do yourself a disservice and let it’s age fool you. It ages like Clooney.
Plus, if more people buy it I won’t be so afraid for Beyond Good and Evil 2.
And we’re one week closer to the closing of the year. If I cannot bring you comfort…